Maybe Kitty is having trouble jumping up on the bed or Buddy struggles to hop into the car for his daily trip to the dog park. Since our pets can’t tell us when something hurts, it’s important to look for signals and cues as they age. This is especially true for joint health, and taking extra measures during the active summer months can help your pet stay healthy, happy, and pain-free.
Our animal friends share similarities with their humans when it comes to joint health. Weight management, the right kind of exercise, proper nutrition, and supplementation all play a role in helping your pet thrive. Here’s a quick overview of the ways you can pro-actively help your treasured friend stay strong and comfortable while they enjoy all the perks of warm-weather activities.
Allowing your pet to become overweight can put them at a greater risk of arthritis¾a state where inflammation and other factors lead to eventual joint deterioration. Unlike humans, who often don’t deny themselves sugar-laden foods that lead to weight gain, we are in a position to provide our animals with a completely healthy diet. Ever wish you had a personal chef who would only feed you healthy food? That’s the type of control we have over what our animals eat. And, since some breeds are predisposed to joint problems—especially bigger dogs like labs or German shepherds—playing the part of gatekeeper in the nutrition department is a valuable goal. Do some research on the healthiest food options for your type of animal. Carb-based, high-calorie diets can initiate all kinds of chaos in the body, even causing an animal to develop incorrectly.
Ensuring that your pet is at a healthy weight throughout their growth stages when bones are still soft, is a necessary step to reduce strain on the joints. As tempting as it is to pamper your furry friend with frequent treats, remember that you aren’t doing them any favors in the long run. Make sure that you are feeding your pet a species-appropriate diet in the right amount for their size. Don’t use food to show affection, but rather train your animal to be rewarded with quality time and praise. Keeping your animal at the right weight will save them from a wealth of weight-related joint issues.
The Right Kind of Exercise
Warm weather can mean more outdoor activity, but be careful. Pay attention to the age and ability of your pet. Animals still in their formative years may seem to have boundless energy with no cap on how much they can exercise, run, and play. Because their bones haven’t finished growing yet, don’t force too much activity or it can put a strain on their joints. The same is true of an aging animal. Long-distance walks are not advised for very young or older animals. For example, dogs finish growing at about 18 months for most breeds, as do cats. Horses don’t have mature skeletons until past their sixth birthday. Many experts advise that some basic disciplines can be introduced to horses around age five, but repetitive movements or hard labor should not start until a horse is six.
Unfortunately, you can’t judge how mature an animal’s skeleton is just by looking. Instead, check with your vet to get an accurate assessment of your particular pet’s bone development. And remember, just like people, your pet wasn’t born ready for marathons. Animals need time to build up their endurance. Because they can be excitable in an effort to please their owner, animals can push themselves beyond what is appropriate for their age. Recognize the signs that your pet may need to rest. If you are training your pet for long walks, hiking, or a competition, research the right approach for your particular animal. For example, dogs with short noses may have a more difficult time breathing during exercise, so be smart about their unique capabilities. In addition, don’t forget the importance of hydration—provide plenty of water at all times. Take the time to understand the nuances and needs of your animal. Remember, they are not merely an extension of what you are experiencing.
Smart Joint Supplement Choices
Adding supplements geared to help manage pain and support joint health can make a big difference in the comfort level of your pet. My first recommendation would be supplemental curcumin for dogs and horses struggling with joint pain. As the primary component of turmeric, the right kind of bioavailable curcumin can work wonders to lessen pain—possibly to the point of not needing any prescriptions. An antioxidant and an anti-inflammatory, curcumin has a long history dating back to Ayurvedic medicine. But don’t settle for less-than-proven absorption, and make sure that the formula does more good than harm. While some products use black pepper or piperine derived from black pepper to boost absorption, it’s important to note the possibility of irritation to the mucous membrane lining in the mouth, stomach, and bowels. Instead, choose a supplement that improves bioavailability while adding additional benefits like turmerones from turmeric essential oil. A scientific study of dogs showed that this type of curcumin (called BCM-95) had a seven-fold increase in absorption over eight hours. Curcumin is also being touted for its ability to improve brain health and fight diseases like cancer—a plus for your pet.
Dogs and horses will benefit from another anti-inflammatory that has its roots in Ayurvedic medicine—boswellia. A Swiss research project studied 24 dogs with chronic joint and spinal diseases. The dogs were given a standardized extract of boswellia in their food for six weeks. After just two weeks, 71 percent of the dogs showed improvement. By the time six weeks were up, they noted a significant reduction in tell-tale signs like intermittent lameness and a stiff gait. Once again, absorption is key to getting results. Choose a product that has been standardized to provide at least 70 percent total organic and boswellic acids, including 10 percent acetyl-11-keto-β-boswellic acid (AKBA), boswellia’s most important active component.
Take the time to understand your pet’s health needs—especially during the warm-weather months—and don’t settle for less than a quality, proven supplement as part of their overall health strategy. The choices we make about our pet’s health can minimize pain and maximize comfort as they age. And what better reward for every animal lover?
Wondering why I haven’t mentioned cats when it comes to these supplements? The physiology of cats, much like the animals themselves, is unique. A wide range of supplements that are safe for dogs and horses can be harmful to cats. Check with your vet to find out the right supplements for your feline.
Early Warning Signs of Joint Issues
- Difficulty standing up
- Crying or whimpering when touched
- Favoring a leg
- Less interest in play
- Appearing stiff or moving slowly
- Joint swelling
- Stiffness in gate
- Change in behavior or performance
- Appetite loss
- Reluctance to jump on favorite jumping spots
- Eliminating outside the litter box
- Lessened interest in family members or other pets
- Lack of appetite
- Excessive sleeping